In the immediate aftermath of Ford's unveiling of its high-performance ute, the Raptor, in Thailand earlier this year, social media channels and pubs everywhere fired up with charged debates over the company's choice of a 2.0-litre engine four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine for its new flagship high-performance ute.
Was it a shrewd forward-thinking strategic move or a misstep? The case has been argued strongly by both sides – those who still love big engines and those who see the value in smaller-capacity engines.
Well, we've just spent a day driving a final pre-production Raptor prototype in the Northern Territory and we got a pretty solid impression of it over a variety of terrain.
So, does this hard-charging bush speedster, with off-road-racing DNA live up to the hype or not? Read on.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Aussie Raptor costs a hefty $74,990 (excluding on-roads) but its line-up is a refreshingly simple one: it is available as a dual-cab with the auto – that's it. No choice is your only choice. You do, however, get to select from a stack of exterior colours including, 'Lightning Blue', 'Race Red', 'Shadow Black', 'Frozen White', and 'Conquer Grey'.
Ford officials told us at the launch that 1000 orders had already been lodged for Raptors and with the vehicles due to arrive here in October, those wanting to order one now will have to wait until the new year to take delivery.
Take note though before you put your money down: there are glaring omissions from the Raptor's standard safety tech including, most notably, AEB, which is offered as an option on the Raptor's cheaper Ranger stablemates.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The Raptor is only available as a dual-cab with auto.
The Raptor has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine – producing 157kW at 3750rpm and 500Nm from 1750rpm-2000rpm.
It has a 10-speed automatic transmission – the same auto used in the F-150 Raptor and Mustang. It also has Ford's 'Terrain Management System' with six modes: Normal and Sport (both on-road modes), as well as Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand, Rock, and Baja mode (directly inspired by the Raptor's Baja 1000 desert rally roots).
Is there anything interesting about its design?
You can choose from a set of exterior colours including, 'Lightning Blue', 'Race Red', 'Shadow Black', 'Frozen White', and 'Conquer Grey'.
This great looking ute, with more than just spiritual ties to the USA's Ford F-150 Raptor, has very distinctive eye-catching styling, from its blocky front grille (with all-capped FORD letters in your face), past meaty shoulders, flared wheelarches, beefy diecast magnesium side-steps, and chunky BFG All Terrain tyres, all the way back to the business end.
The Raptor – sitting high and square with 283mm of ground clearance and 150mm wider front and rear track – definitely wears its performance-ute origins on its metal sleeve.
The interior is simple but stylish with plenty of nice touches including Raptor branding throughout, blue stitched surfaces and 'Technical Suede' seats.
How practical is the space inside?
Controls are all easy to locate and operate and clear enough to read, even when fast-blasting along dirt roads with the dappled light of a bush landscape.
Inside is roomy but with a welcome snug feel, perhaps a cabin nod to the Raptor's racing origins, and there's a simple all-pervasive, understated, cool vibe inside.
Controls are all easy to locate and operate and clear enough to read, even when fast-blasting along dirt roads with the dappled light of a bush landscape whizzing by at 110km/h in the late-afternoon light.
The front seats are easily comfortable enough to spend long-distance trips in and the back row is right for two adults; three, if there's a jockey in the middle.
There are USB ports and a power socket up front and storage spaces in the usual places.
What's it like as a daily driver?
The steering has that near-perfect Ranger-style weighting but with obvious Raptor liveliness to it.
It's a smooth cruiser on open roads, bitumen or loose dirt with that wider wheel track adding to a solid, stable driving feel.
The much-touted coil springs and Fox Racing suspension set-up work supremely well, soaking up the serious lumps and bumps on back-country tracks, as well as a few severe dips and ruts that we tackled at high speeds in the dust and dirt of the massive Tipperary Station south of Darwin.
There is no doubt about the Raptor's ability to go fast off-road and do it with absolute sure-footedness, which it's been designed and engineered for.
The bad news is that 2.0-litre engine feels underpowered; it's not right for the Raptor, lacking grunt enough to push this ute along when really needed – for instance, from a standing start and also, worryingly, when overtaking.
It also took energetic footwork to get it moving again after hitting substantial pools of thick speed-sapping dust. Even though Ford officials bristled every time anyone mentioned the word 'engine' in conversation at the launch, and cleverly avoided being drawn out when asked about future Raptor engines, there won't be too many surprised punters when Ford introduces a bigger-block Raptor in the not-too-distant future.
But it's an issue that has to be addressed because, from a standstill, there's noticeable lag from foot down to 'power on' and that 10-speed auto doesn't help matters as it can feel wishy-washy at times. Ford claims the Raptor can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 10.5 seconds.
On the plus side, the steering has that near-perfect Ranger-style weighting but with obvious Raptor liveliness to it.
Also, NVH levels were top notch, even when on patches of rough bitumen, and that's despite the Raptor being shod with those specially developed off-road-friendly BF Goodrich All-Terrain 285/70 R17 KO2 tyres.
Surprisingly quiet on-road, those tyres, with tough sidewalls and offering great grip on every surface we drove on, are unreal performers off of it.
What's it like for touring?
Adding to the Raptor's bush-cred are heavy-duty bash plates to protect its underbody when you're thrashing across the countryside.
This is a ute firmly targeted at fun-loving adrenalin seekers, rather than those who want to do any long-distance bush touring, or lug serious loads around for either work or play.
The Raptor has a listed kerb weight of 2404kg and is 5398mm long (with a 3220mm wheelbase), 2180mm wide and 1873mm high. It has a maximum towing capacity of 2500kg (braked), 1000kg below the segment standard, 750kg (unbraked) and its payload is listed as 738kg. It has a GVM of 3090kg.
Sure, the Raptor can tackle any traditional snail-pace 4WDing stuff with ease – steep hills, creek crossings and rock-crawling – as it proved numerous times during our off-road drive loops, but it's a purpose-built hard-charger and it's most comfortable being driven at a fair clip along bush tracks.
We switched between driving modes – the buttons are on the steering wheel and modes are displayed on the dash – and changes to throttle response, gearing and traction control were seamless and welcomed.
Baja mode is fun. You still select 2H, 4H or 4L and the dash display even advises you which one to switch to when you're choosing a mode.
Adding to the Raptor's bush-cred are heavy-duty bash plates (to protect its underbody when you're thrashing across the countryside), those hard-core side steps, and two rated recovery points at the front (4635kg) and rear (3863kg) of the truck.
The tray has a tub-liner, four tie-down points and 12V socket tucked up in the front left-hand side corner of the tray.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Raptor has not been ANCAP tested yet.
The Raptor comes standard with an adjustable speed limiter, ABS, ESC, rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, ESC (with trailer sway control), load adaptive control, Roll Over Mitigation (ROM), traffic sign recognition, rain-sensing wipers, rear-view camera and roll-stability control.
I have to admit I arrived at the Raptor launch really wanting to like it. Despite any flak Ford received from naysayers about putting the 2.0-litre in the Raptor, it seemed like they had all the right ingredients for something that might really shake up the ute scene.
Sure, all the elements are there for a sporty-looking, fast and fun off-roader and Ford has pretty much nailed a lot of what it was aiming to do with this ute, but minus the punchier engine it needs, the Raptor seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. In its current guise, it's damn good, when it could have been great. I'm now looking forward to Raptor 2.0.
What do you think of the Raptor? If you reckon they can improve, tell us how in the comments below.